Boston City Hall

If Boston is going to reintroduce a rent control regime, it needs to exempt small landlords, particularly those who keep their rents substantially below market-rate, landlords from across the city told officials at a listening session Thursday.

“I have not increased my rent in 10 years,” landlord Allan Isaacson said. “How am I rewarded for keeping my rents low for 10 years? Frankly I’m not.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has said she was elected in part on a promise to push for rent control – or “rent stabilization,” as she terms her approach – and that she’s determined to bring a home rule petition to the legislature next year. If Attorney General Maura Healey wins this fall’s governor’s race, as polling currently suggests she will, Wu’s proposal will meet with a receptive audience. Healey has said she supports local-option rent control measures along with attempting to increase housing production.

The July 21 session sought to gather feedback from landlords about how details of a “rent stabilization” policy should be organized – should landlords be allowed to “bank” increases? What types of expenses should landlords be able to pass through to tenants? How could the city support small landlords? – but city officials moderating the discussion made clear they were not interested in hearing arguments about whether or not rent control should return to Boston.

Nonetheless, many warned that the return of rent control would have negative consequences.

“What we have is a problem of supply and demand. Rent control can tinker around the edges but the real solution is to loosen zoning laws get rid of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ and let developers build new units,” said David Brown, who said he owns and lives in a four-unit building in Boston.

Tamara Small, the CEO of commercial development trade group NAIOP-MA, and Doug Quattrochi, the executive director of landlord trade group MassLandlords, both gave statements warning that other cities’ experiences with rent control ultimately reduced housing production. Quattrochi cited Boston’s own past experience with the policy idea, that led to far more Black renters living in apartments exempted from rent control than in ones where rents were capped.

The most common sentiment during the session was to have small landlords – defined by different speakers as anywhere from up to 6 units or simply as “being a hands-on manager who shovels their own snow” to be exempted – exempted or given a property tax break for keeping their rents at an unspecified level below market rate.

Some speakers said they also feared having to face down mountains of paperwork from the policy when they handled all aspects of property management themselves.

“I can see people like myself without employees spending hours and hours of renegotiating rents and dealing with city hall, negotiating whether or not an elevator requires a special assessment,” said David Schmahmnan.

A few of the landlords who spoke out declared their support for the idea of rent control.

“Rent control helps households remain in their home, prevents segregation and gentrification,” said Carolyn Lomax, who told officials she owns rentals in Dorchester.

“My home is an important asset but…it’s a privilege and a responsibility to be a landlord,” said Jamaica Plain landlord Daniel Moss.

Wu has appointed a large Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee made up largely of housing and community activists, with minority participation from members of the commercial real estate industry.

Boston Landlords Give City Earful at Rent Control Listening Session

by James Sanna time to read: 2 min